You got me good, Stevie

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced new anti terrorism measures
On January 30, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced new anti terrorism measures

In response to the fatal attacks in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, the federal government unveiled a new “anti-terrorism bill”, Bill C-51. If Bill C-51 is passed, we can expect the following changes to the law:

  • Broader power given to law officials to make arrests if they suspect that terrorist activity may be carried out
  • Increasing the period of preventative detention from 3 to 7 days
  • Expansion of the no-fly list
  • Allow Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to “disrupt” suspected terrorist activities and make it illegal to promote terrorism

Sounds safe, right? Who wouldn’t want to be safe from the happenings in and related to the ISIL? Beheadings? Ransoms? Kidnappings? Suicide bombing? No thanks. Fortunately, Harper’s proposed Bill C-51 will allow CSIS to act like a police force. Although CSIS is unable to make arrests or detain suspects, the agency will be able to “disrupt” threats instead of just collecting intelligence.

(Let’s not forget that Bill C-51 is an addition to Canada’s existing security certificates as a response to the war on terror – but that’s for another blog post. In the meantime, check out the documentary Secret Trial Five).

I hope you didn’t skim over the fact that if Bill C-51 gets passed, CSIS will have police-like-powers. This news comes as shocking because CSIS was deliberately separated from the police work around 30 years ago. Why? Because the RCMP consistently breached several laws and civil rights. It seems to me that while we’re trucking along with Harper’s plans, we’re foregoing a few crucial lessons from our history.

Harper also warns us that jihadists are the real threat to Canada’s freedom – not Bill C-51. When asked whether or not the new bill threatens Charter rights, Harper vaguely replied “it’s the jihadis who would take away our freedoms…they want to harm us because they hate our society and the values it represents”.

There are other opinions in light of the new bill. Hamed El-Said, an advisor to the UN Counter Terrorism Implementation Task and author of New Approaches to Countering Terrorism, proposes another tactic to combating ISIL threats. He suggests that rather than new laws that “undermine freedom of expression or result in powerful security officials” Canada needs to adopt practices of “organized engagement with Muslim community and dealing with the causes of terrorism in Canadian society.”

We as Canadians shouldn’t be so eager to accept the new anti-terrorism bill at the expense of our constitution. Nor should we be manipulated to divert our attention from a closer fear: our campaigning Prime Minister’s intention to take our freedoms away.

So yes, Harper got me good. He has me exactly where he wants me to be – scared, confused and wanting to be safe from the big bad wolf.  But here’s the thing. This aggressive approach to “national security” fails to resolve the root issue of extremism and terrorism in Canada.

Of course, ISIL poses a threat to the entire world. Of course I want my family, friends and fellow Canadians to feel safe and secure. But I don’t want it at the cost of our civil liberties.

Globe and Mail puts it the best:

“Our existing laws and our society are strong enough to stand up to the threat of terrorism without compromising our values. The danger terrorism poses is not only one of violence; its mere threat can distort the way we live and think. On that score, terrorism will have been all too effective in Canada if this bill is adopted as is.”

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What are your thoughts? Do you think Bill C-51 should be passed? Does it compromise our civil liberties? Should we sacrifice our freedom for safety and security?